A cancer diagnosis can be frightening for you, but the reverberation of the news extends to your loved ones as well. While they may all be concerned about you as you cope with cancer, they also need support from you.
People living with cancer often have concerns about the impact that their cancer may have on loved ones. This may come in the form of being worried about being a burden, or in feeling concerned about the physical, emotional, and practical toll the illness might have on a caregiver or family members. You may want to give them permission to identify, name, and acknowledge their emotions. It may also be helpful for you to apply some practical ways to help support the people you love through your diagnosis.
- Share the Emotions
You won’t be able to protect the people you love from the disruptions and emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis in the family. You and your partner and other loved ones may each be experiencing a parallel range of emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear, but they may not be openly sharing those feelings. While it can be difficult to know what to say, acknowledging the unwelcome experience of cancer may open opportunities for honest connection and conversation about how each of you is coping emotionally. While you cannot protect a loved one from these challenging emotions, you may each feel less isolated if you face them together. Rather than withholding or hiding an emotion such as anger, try naming and expressing the emotion and including your loved one.
- Bring Curiosity Rather Than Making Assumptions
When exploring emotions with your caregiver and loved ones, try to avoid assuming how they may be feeling or thinking about your cancer. You may assume your partner is resilient, while perhaps he or she is feeling worried about expressing their anxiety or sadness for fear of upsetting you. Rather than encouraging you, they may be yearning for you to pick them up by saying, “we’ll face this together and I’m curious about how you are really feeling right now.” Being responsive and attuned to how your loved ones are handling the situation allows you both to share vulnerabilities and rely on one another when you can to cope. This doesn’t mean that you need to find solutions for every problem or issue raised, but you can start by asking and thinking together about how to get support for your loved ones.
- You Are NOT Your Cancer
You may feel guilty if you are feeling responsible for how the illness is impacting your loved ones. You may want to control your reality and self-blame can temporarily offer comfort. But remember that cancer is something that happened, not something you did. Viewing the situation in that way can help you shift your emotional energy towards finding ways to face cancer and control the things you can. You did not choose cancer, but you can choose how you think and talk about it. Even small shifts in language with loved ones may help. For example, thinking of it as “the cancer” rather than “my cancer” can help some couples and families see it as a separate entity, an unwelcome disruption rather than one person’s problem.
- Caregivers Need Support Too
It is important to acknowledge the stressful and vital role of caregivers and ensure they have the support they need. With so much focus on you, taking time to explore what your caregiver needs are a caring gesture and one action you can take against feeling guilty. Cancer is often thought of as a marathon, not a sprint, and it is important to think about using support and setting the caregiver up well so they can be present for the long haul.Make sure your caregiver is taking care of their needs:
- Getting enough rest
- Moving around on a regular basis
- Taking breaks
- Learning to say “no” to prioritize the most important tasks
- Seeking support to explore emotions
- Maintaining their own medical needs and appointments
- Eating nourishing food
- Asking for help and delegating as needed
- Scheduling time for self-care
- Find Reasons to Express Gratitude
Gratitude can be a spontaneous feeling but there is growing evidence showing the positive health and mood benefits of practicing and cultivating gratitude. Often the feeling of worry seeps in when you are wishing a situation was different. Listing even small things for which you are grateful can be a powerful shift in thinking and alter how you feel. You can’t control events or the way they impact us or our families. We can, however, choose to show appreciation for the good things like a caregiver’s kind word or meal, a friend’s sense of humor, or a nurse’s comfort during a difficult moment. Gratitude strengthens relationships and can have a positive impact when expressed to caregivers and loved ones. Thanking a loved one requires us to identify and express how we’ve been supported by other people and reminds us of the importance of connection.
Get the help you need
Cancer impacts the whole family. Iris mental health therapists are available to help you navigate complex cancer-related emotions around caregiver and family coping. Caring for your caregiver is essential.
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Reviewed by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board
This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.